Competence vs Congeniality

refrigeratorI bought something that was supposed to be a refrigerator but isn’t.

It looks like a refrigerator.  Quite an attractive refrigerator, at that.  It’s gleaming white, oh so clean, and very spacious.  It came from a refrigerator company and was delivered by certified refrigerator delivery people.  It is in all ways a refrigerator, except for one annoying detail.

It does not refrigerate.

I plugged it into the appropriate wall receptacle, returned in the requisite four hours, and made an important discovery.

Are you ready?  You might want to write this down.

Here it is—It doesn’t matter how good something looks if it doesn’t do its job.

You may quote me.

None of you would keep, or expect me to keep, a brand new refrigerator that actually functions as a heater.  So, I hopped on the phone to the company in order to swap my heat-maker for a cold-maker.

This is when I discovered the ancillary to the above-mentioned quotable discovery.  Here it is, no extra charge—It doesn’t matter how nice someone is if they are incompetent.

From Saturday night, through Sunday and Monday, I have spent over four hours speaking with or on hold for genuinely nice but thoroughly incompetent people.  It really began even before the refrigerator that doesn’t refrigerate got here, when I spent an hour on hold asking for something a little narrower than the twelve-hour delivery window they had given me.  I finally got a breathing person who told me when the men would arrive—and they came an hour early.

My first call after discovering my new refrigerator’s little problem got me an operator who transferred me to tech support where I spent 32 minutes on hold before the call was disconnected.


Attempt #2 got me to a self-proclaimed techie whom I shall call Steve (name changed just to be merciful).  Steve patiently explained that the fridge had to be plugged in and running for a full 24 hours before it would start producing cold air.  He was very confident of this.  He was also totally wrong. Even I could see that, and you know my reputation as a handyman.  I could actually hear him clicking through the online manual and trying to figure it out.  Steve assured me that if I just waited until the next morning, I would be able to go sledding inside that refrigerator.

The four technicians I have spoken to since then agree that Steve should not be living on his own.

Let me point out that everyone I have dealt with on my little quest for cold—and we’re talking about ten people so far—has been exceedingly nice.  They listen, they make appropriate tut-tut noises at my difficulty, the laugh at poor Steve, they promise to fix this problem immediately.  They just don’t seem able to get the job done.

This phenomenon is not limited to the world of major appliances.  I went to buy plants for my yard a couple of weeks ago, and I asked the man on duty at Plantville where to find lobelia.  He had no idea what I was talking about, which would have been fine if he worked in a bakery.  He wandered aimlessly, looking for the plants—something I was fully capable of doing.  As it happened, my aimless wandering produced results before his did.  When I left him, he was frantically looking through an ancient plant tome, trying to get a clue.  As far as I know, he never got one.

But he was very nice.

My mother-in-law needed cataract surgery.  She tried researching the ophthalmologist she was referred to.  She was looking for things like, oh, degrees, board certifications, stuff like that.  What she was able to discover was that her surgeon was very involved in the community, loved kids, and was a local soccer coach.

Oh, and he was very nice.

Frankly, when it comes to surgery, I don’t care about nice.  He can be surly, he can throw rocks at puppies, as long as he cuts the right things from the right places.

The same goes for the garden supply guy.

And the refrigerator people.

I’m not saying that I don’t want customer service people to be friendly.  Sure I do.  I just don’t want it to come at the expense of getting the job done.  I have not yet reached the point in my life where I have to call Customer Support just to have someone to talk to.

So I’m considering a new approach.  Perhaps you will join me.  From here out, I am going to begin every customer service call I make with, “I don’t need you to be nice.  I need you to fix my problem.”  Should make for some refreshing conversations, don’tcha think?

Oh, so I should finish the refrigerator story.  Except I can’t.  It’s Tuesday, and I’m still waiting.  They guy I spoke to last night promised to have it delivered today, during the only time period in which I know I won’t be home.  I explained this little technicality to him, and he made a solemn vow to get the delivery rescheduled and call me back within ten minutes.

That was thirteen hours ago.

He sure was nice, though.



Competence vs Congeniality — 1 Comment

  1. Michael, you are too funny!

    Reminds me of the times I was working at K-Mart and May Company and a tropical fish store and I said, “I’m sorry” to irate customers. They didn’t want me to apologize, they wanted me to fix the problem. In fact, they grew more irritated when I apologized. Why didn’t I learn my lesson the first time?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *